D. H. Lawrence himself was sure the novel he had just written would never be published. It was 1927. People did not speak the word sex aloud, much less use explicit language to describe the act. Even the story line went against all that was sacred: A nobleman's wife, denied the pleasures of marriage because her husband had been injured in the war, takes up with the gamekeeper on her husband's estate. It was scandalous, immoral, obscene and provocative. And Lawrence was right. No established publisher would touch it. Even though he published the novel at his own expense in 1928, it couldn't be sold legally. The world learned of Lady Chatterley's Lover mainly through two expurgated versions released, with his widow-------------------------
Frieda's authorization, after Lawrence's death in 1930. It was not until 30 years later, in 1960, that the famous Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley went to press, touching off what was to be a classic censorship trial. After much deliberation, the courts in England decided the book was not obscene and Lady Chatterley entered the common consciousness as a literary classic. Right up there with Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.
Now it is 1982 and the book that caused the world to blush is a movie. (Actually, a screen (text continued on page 159) At Long Last, Lover (continued from page 79) version of Lady Chatterley was made in France in 1955, but the current film, unlike it, is based on the original, un-expurgated Lawrence novel.) Directed by Just Jaeckin and starring Sylvia Kristel as Lady Constance Chatterley, the current picture is faithful both to the atmosphere and to the sexuality of the time.
Sylvia exploded onto the screen in 1974 as the sensuous Emmanuelle: this, however, is her first truly major role, and it's been a long time coming.
The Dutch-born actress currently lives in a Los Angeles apartment of modest elegance two floors down from the home of Bette Davis. It was there that we met with her to discuss her career and the impact of her latest role. She was in a good mood, because her film Private Lessons was doing great at the box office and she felt it would be the perfect lead-in to Lady Chatterley.
She is tall. 5'9", moves with grace and is every Lit as sexy as she appears in movies. It is a special kind of sexiness, though, one that gives the impression she could do anything on screen and still maintain her dignity. She's somewhere between a virgin and a prostitute with a Ph.D. She also has a reported I.Q. of 164 and speaks five languages: Dutch, German. French, Italian and, luckily, English. She lives in the U. S. to be close to the American film industry and to be as far away as possible from a certain tax man with a French accent. That little problem should be cleared up shortly: Kristel has a piece of the action on Lady Chatterley.
She is very anxious to dispel any notion that she is the same woman as Emmanuelle, and, indeed, she is not.
"I was at one time categorized because of the films I had done," she told us. "People did not want to give me good parts. They'd go to Isabelle Adjani or Marie-France Pisier or actresses with stage backgrounds. But bit by bit this is changing. I did a film with Claude Chabrol, then another with Roger Vadim. That was a nice breakthrough. I also did a comedy in which I didn't have to undress, and, in America. I did The Concorde---Airport '79, a very important part, and, would you believe, The Nude Bomb, with Don Adams. I guess I did Nude Bomb because you have to work, you can't just sit in your apartment. Besides, I like Don Adams. I thought. It's a small part, but maybe I can learn something: for instance, timing. Don has great timing. And it was fun. Private Lessons was a nice little comedy, though I found it annoying this undressing and seducing of a 15-year-old. I felt vaguely exploited at first, but then, when I saw the completed film, I thought, no, it was all right.
"Exploitation is just being used for your physical aspects. People should be appreciated for those aspects, but then, why exclude your intelligence? It's not that I have an Einsteinlike intellect, but to be considered, well, stupid up front just because I'm playing a seductress ... I would much rather play a witty, smart girl, a Katharine Hepburn part, or even like Ingrid Bergman in Arch of Triumph. But, as my ex-manager used to say, 'You ain't Meryl Streep.'"
The moviegoing public has certainly seen a lot more of Kristel than of Streep. Does all that nudity in her films bother her? "Yes," she says. "I don't mind that so many people know what I look like nude, but then they assume that I'm like the roles I play.
"For a nude scene, I always ask for a closed set, so that no one who is not involved will be there. Then I treat it just like choreography. Before the scene starts, I want to know exactly what I will be doing from position to position, so one doesn't need to go into wild improvisations. Once you have that down in rehearsals, it's no longer an emotional experience; it's trying to get the light right and the people where they're supposed to be. Of course, it's important to have a good relationship with your acting partner. To see that he is at ease with certain movements.
"With some male actors, that is difficult because they are so nervous. It's more difficult for a man to be naked onscreen than a woman. It's not a very erotic situation and I doubt that you will find many actresses who will say that it is. I think you have to be a kind of exhibitionist to enjoy it. I guess over the years I have become very expert at it. Can you imagine such expertise?
"What I don't like is some of the sounds directors want you to make, orgasmic sounds after maybe five seconds of kissing. I always refuse. Then I say, OK, I'll compromise; I'll open my mouth from time to time without sound---and I'll dub it in later."
As anyone familiar with the genre will tell you, it's very difficult to make a genuinely erotic scene. Kristel has filmed enough of them to give her definite ideas about how it should be done.
"You need a good story with a nice build-up. You have to let the audience wait awhile; then, when the sex finally happens, it's much better. The one scene I myself found erotic when I saw it was in Rocky, when Stallone and Talia Shire were in his apartment and they embraced in front of his door. It is erotic because she was so shy and had given up any thought of being admired or thought sexy, and then to just give in like she did, it was very nice.
"The idea of sexuality is much different in the U. S. than it is in Europe. In Holland, for instance, sex is freer, and so it's depicted with more naturalness than it is here. When Americans started to produce erotica, it was always too much and it was not done believably. American directors like to work more, shall we say, technically. In Europe, a director will sit with the actor the night before and discuss the feeling of the scene. In America---Alan Myerson, for instance, in Private Lessons, did all the emotional guiding for Eric Brown and left me totally alone, because he does not know how to handle women. That is frustrating. You feel abandoned and ignored, particularly if the part itself is not fun.
"American directors, I don't know, they came into sexuality so late. I was in the very fortunate position in Lady Chatterley of being able to choose my director, so I went with Just Jaeckin, because he identifies with women so well. He has a lot of feminine aspects to him without being effeminate. He is very sensitive. I think European women are very different from Americans. They are much more vulnerable and require special attention, which I think American men find very annoying."
We reached Jaeckin, who was Sylvia's director in the first Emmanuelle, in Paris by phone. He's very high on Kristel. "Sylvia proves in Lady Chatterley that she is a good actress," he told us. "She can do anything onscreen because she has a rare combination of sensitivity and naïveté; nothing she does is dirty! In this film, she has to express a lot. She has to be cold and intelligent. She has to be romantic and passionate. She has to play many different women. This is a beautiful love story and I love love stories. When you do a love story with a classic actress like Sylvia, you have a winner on your hands."
In truth, her performance surprised Kristel herself. "I'm always amazed at the different person I am on the screen. It's like the camera falls in love with me. My face is so open and transparent, with so many emotions happening at once. A good night's sleep really pays off!
"The other parts I have done were always kind of easy, a walk-through. This one was tough. Lady Chatterley is a very romantic film. The love scenes are very passionate. D. H. Lawrence was very much ahead of his time. After all, Lady Chatterley was one of the first really liberated women. For a woman to leave her husband and settle down with another man for love, rather than status, was really quite something."
Kristel is, in fact, a lot more like a Lady Chatterley than an Emmanuelle: elegant, sophisticated, used to philosophical conversation and the company of artists. Because of that, she is not really at home in the movie capital, with its outdoor life and sunshine. "I am very quiet, very much an indoor person," she says. "I like to be alone to write, to draw, to do a little correspondence. I feel very limited here in California. When I lived in Paris, I would go out in the street, buy a newspaper and sit at a café to observe the people walking. Here no one walks. I love Paris; the architecture is so beautiful and the light is so special. The light is different from any other city I've been in. Particularly at five o'clock. They call it the 'blue hour.' It lifts me.
"This city is totally oriented to film and music. I prefer an atmosphere like New York's, where there are more kinds of people. Sometimes, in L.A., I'll go to the opening of a new art show and I'll find the people at the gallery discussing the latest film, not the art they came to see. It is very dull and superficial. But maybe there is more here that I don't know about. Maybe I don't go out enough."
Kristel has a son, Arthur, who'll be seven in February; Belgian writer and Nobel Prize nominee Hugo Claus, from whom she is divorced, is the father. "I miss my son very much," she laments. "He is in school in Holland, because I decided I didn't want to make him a circus child and cart him all over. He needs to have a very basic, solid education and I think because he's Dutch, that that should take place in Holland. He is being raised by my mother and my sister, so he has a nice family life. He is loved, almost spoiled. Still, I don't think I would win an award for mother of the year."
She is currently searching for another mate---she wants her son to have a brother---but she finds the search difficult. "It is almost impossible to have a relationship when one is an actress. I do have a relationship now with a French producer, but he travels more than I do. He called me this afternoon and said, 'I'm in London now.' I said, 'I thought you were in Munich!' He said, 'Yes, I was in Munich this morning!' He will be back in ten days, which will be nice, but then he's off to Paris for a couple of weeks. It is not as intimate a relationship as I would like, if you know what I mean. I would like to have a partner with whom I could discuss everyday things and who had similar tastes ... but you can't have everything, I guess.
"When I'm working, though, it's fine. I don't know what my next project will be. I've heard I will be shooting a film in Germany in a couple of months. I'm waiting to see what happens when Lady Chatterley comes out here. To see if it will awaken the interest of American producers. It could be that I will have to take lessons to erase my accent, which will be a shame, because I think it's kind of charming. I suppose once we get over the current trend toward violence and horror films and finally get into romance, my turn will come. Porn is so boring. I don't find it exciting at all. I'm a romantic."